The Bible as Romance? An Overview of Marital Imagery and Intimacy with God

by Dr. Tim L. Anderson, Professor of Bible and Theology

The history of God’s people shows their desire to draw close to Him.  The wondrous truth of His self-revelation is that the very intimacy sought by humans is at His invitation.  Numerous descriptions of this dynamic are given in the Scriptures, from the first (Gen. 3:8; 5:22) to the final people of God (Rev. 21:3, 22-23; 22:3-4).  However, nothing in the Bible appears to communicate a closer intimacy with Him than the imagery of marriage.

The church has struggled not only with interpreting this imagery, but with how it actually applies to the believer’s relationship with God.  How are these metaphors to be understood?  Do the Bible’s marital images correspond to contemporary Western ones, and does romance provide the basis for correlation between these images?  Without answering these questions, the average Christian’s conception of, and quest for, an intimate relationship with God could be burdened with misconceptions and perhaps idolatrous errors.  To the point: Do the Bible’s marital images teach some form of romantic intimacy between God and the believer?

A Brief Survey and the Concept of Romance

A brief survey of the explicit instances of marital imagery shows that they can be grouped into two main categories.  The first is the husband/wife (l [B/vyai/hv;ai/ ajnhvr/guvnh/) relationship.  The foundation for this imagery is in the Old Testament where God Himself is described as Israel’s husband (Isa. 54:5; Jer. 31:32; Eph. 5:22-33).  The second category is the bridegroom/bride (nt:j:/hL:K; numfivo§/nuvmfh) relationship.  In the New Testament, Jesus Christ is the bridegroom and the church is the bride.  The betrothal imagery anticipates the future marriage ceremony and union (Isa. 62:4-5; Matt. 9:15; Mark 2:19-20; Luke 17:22; Rev. 19:7-10; 22:17).

The crucial question is whether these texts and others support a romantic notion of the Christian’s relationship to their God.  Romance has many noble aspects, including relational intimacy and self-sacrifice. It is a part of natural human experience, leading to and being a part of the marital relationship.  However, in the West it is intricately tied to emotion, and the achievement of a union with another person often exclusively on that basis.  Thomas Bergler provides a helpful summary of psychologist H. E. Fisher’s study of romantic love:

The person who is “in love” thinks obsessively about the beloved.  She idealizes that person and ignores his flaws.  He may believe that he would be willing to die for her.  Lovers experience “extreme energy, hyperactivity, sleeplessness, euphoria, mood swings.” Obstacles or adversity can heighten their passion.  Many become emotionally dependent on the relationship and rearrange their life to spend more time with that person.  They will neglect other obligations and relationships in order to pursue their beloved.  Above all, the lover “craves emotional union” with the beloved.  But all this passion is “involuntary and difficult, if not impossible to control.” And it inevitably fades.[1] As a result, the romantic lover may tend to value his or her feelings above all else, and thus find it difficult to sustain commitment in place of infatuation.

An Example of the Romantic Intimacy View

A current example of an attempt to justify a romantic view of the Christian’s intimate relationship with God is found in Frank Viola’s most recent book, From Eternity to Here: Rediscovering the Ageless Purpose of God.[2] This engaging popular author has created a narrative theology of biblical themes concerning the church.  Although he develops marital imagery only in part one of the three sections of his book (the house of God and the body of Christ being the others), it is the first, and it leaves a lasting impression on the reader.  His narrative approach to theology draws the reader into it.  He admits that his favorite movie genre is romance with an element of mystery.[3] It becomes quite clear that he views theology—from  Genesis to Revelation—through  that lens.  To understand Viola’s perspectives, one must recognize the two sides to his approach:  how God sees the believer through Scripture’s marital imagery, and how the believer is to conceive of, respond to, and cultivate intimacy with God in light of those images.

According to Viola, believers must grasp how God sees them through the grand love story of the Bible.  From its very beginning, the stories of Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and Rachel, and even Asenath and Joseph are patterned after the heavenly romance.[4] Therefore, the purpose for the Eternal Son becoming human was so that He could “obtain a wife for Himself,” so He could “obtain the passion that burned within His bosom from before time.”[5] The terminology Viola uses for God’s love is decidedly romantic.  For example, he claims, “The Lord Jesus is the greatest lover under God’s heaven.  No creature can match Him as a passionate romantic.”[6] When Jesus prays to His Father, “Father, You love them just as much as You love Me,” it is here and other places in John’s Gospel that we supposedly find the “unstoppable passion of a love sick God.”[7]

What does Viola mean by falling in love?  In his section titled, “The Divine Frustration,” he describes it this way:  “When a man falls in love with a woman, he will walk over cut glass for her. His mind becomes occupied, consumed, and even obsessed with the thought of her.  He becomes a driven man, driven to find ways of expressing his affection for his beloved.  When the heart has been infected by the passion of human love, there’s simply no cure in sight.”[8]

He compares this scenario to God’s love for His people. Like any lover who is frustrated when his or her advances are shunned, God is truly a frustrated lover. Viola then asserts that Christ sees His bride through the eyes of a lover.  There are no faults in His beloved.  Viola chides believers to not “make the mistake of diluting this wonderful reality by calling it ‘positional truth.’  This is toxic thinking clothed in theological rhetoric.”[9]

Song of Solomon is another rich source of romantic imagery for Viola.  He notes how the king is charmed by his bride’s beauty, and praises her for it.  Song of Solomon chapters four and seven go into great detail about parts of her body.  Viola applies this aspect to the church.  “As the king vividly describes each portion of his bride’s body, we are given insight into how you and I look in the eyes of our king, the Lord Jesus Christ.”[10] He then argues, “One of the greatest truths that the Song of Solomon presents to us is that the Lord’s love is not only for the whole, His bride, but it’s also for all of her individual parts.”[11] Viola also incorporates Ephesians 5:32 in stating, “Behold a mystery:  Christ loves His bride corporately.  But also He loves the individual parts of her body.  In fact, He loves each part just as much as He loves the whole.  In case you don’t understand, those individual parts are you and me.”[12] For Viola, the divine love is equivalent to marital romance.

What then is the purpose behind his passionate use and development of this romantic marital imagery?  Further study reveals that it is not only his obsession that believers grasp and respond to God in an intimately romantic sense, but his assertion that true love is devoid of the torment of fear.  He candidly confides, “I ache when I meet Christians who are terrified of God.  If you are His child, there is no reason to be afraid of your Lord.  The ‘fear of the Lord’ that Scripture often enjoins is not terror or dread.  It is a holy reverence for God and an awe and respect for His power.”  However, Viola feels that “many believers relate to God out of fear and trepidation.”  To them, God is a “‘Soup Nazi’ in the sky.”[13] This perception obviously has been, and will continue to be, a problem among God’s people as they think about achieving any sort of intimacy with Him.  However, a romantic conception of God’s love for His people does not reflect biblical balance, and it is not the solution to this fear factor.


Where does one start in trying to unravel the inadequacies of this attempt to legitimize the romantic intimacy view of the Bible’s marital imagery?  First, the foundational hermeneutical issues need to be addressed in order to understand and evaluate the interpretive framework behind this view.  Second, the legitimacy of using a Western cultural concept and language of romance for the Bible’s teaching on the intimate love between God and His people needs to be evaluated.  Third, the analogical intent of the Bible’s imagery of marriage needs to be clearly established.  Finally, the practical implications of holding a romantic view are essential to one’s mental conception and personal pursuit of intimacy with God and thus cannot be overlooked.

The Christocentric/Allegorical/Spiritual Interpretation of the Marital Images

It should be obvious that authors like Viola have an allegorical or spiritualizing hermeneutical approach. Viola states that he uses the “Christocentric interpretation” of Scripture to glean his ideas from both testaments.  He claims, “This is the very interpretation that the New Testament authors used to expound the Old Testament.  Scholars in the field of canonical criticism use it today as well.”[14] Furthermore, he claims, “A Christian hermeneutic is a Christological hermeneutic. Jesus Christ is the subject of all Scripture.”[15] He associates this hermeneutic with sensus plenior, which he defines as “the deeper meaning, intended by God but not clearly intended by the human author, that is seen to exist in the words of Scripture when they are studied in light of further revelation.”[16] Although the sensus plenior hermeneutic advocates claim it has parameters and controls, it does overlap considerably with allegorization, at least how Viola uses it. Furthermore, seeking a deeper or hidden spiritual meaning as opposed to its original human or carnal meaning has it overlapping considerably with those who use a method seeking the “spiritual sense”.

This is not a legitimate strategy for gaining clarity in describing the intimacy between God and His people. There are numerous problems with it. One is that true allegories do not hide their nature as such.  Longman notes that Pilgrim’s Progress, for example, has clearly identifiable elements of an allegory. The main character is a person named Christian, on a journey to the Celestial City.  Song of Solomon, for example, has no such identifiable elements or hints that there is another level of meaning. There are also no indications that the Lover represents God or Christ and the Beloved represents the Church or the soul of the individual believer.[17]

A second problem is its overshadowing and even eradication of the biblical author’s intended meaning by the supposed “spiritual” or “Christological” meaning.  If the main focus of a given text is another allegorical concept, the literal meaning is not allowed to be expressed clearly or at all.  This does not allow God’s own words to be accepted and heeded in their own context.  To be sure, it is argued that individual texts of Scripture should be read in light of the context of the whole Bible, and rightly so.  Biblical theology would be impossible without such an approach.[18] However, progressive revelation demonstrates God’s choice not to reveal everything about a topic all at once, but as He deemed necessary and appropriate.  At the same time, any text must be allowed to speak for itself.  Otherwise, finite human reasoning and imagination becomes the standard for what a biblical text can or cannot communicate.

A third problem with the sensus plenior hermeneutic is the lack of objective controls.  This causes it to be open to abuse.  Granted, this doesn’t falsify the presupposition behind the approach that God can communicate more than what the original author understood at the time.  However, it does cause one to wonder what the basis is for deciding what the Holy Spirit might be saying through the words of a given text.[19] Furthermore, what prevents these authors from allegorizing the sexual intercourse alluded to in Song of Solomon (4:6, 12, 16; 7:8, 12; 8:1-3, 5) and finding some sort of intercourse between Christ and His Bride, the Church?[20] Why is this off limits to most like Viola?  And if not, why is this a warranted image of intimacy with Christ?[21]

Viola’s approach is nearly unbridled.  Anything is possible, but what does the text say?  His approach is simply a highly allegorical narrative theology of the marriage images in the Bible.

A crucial question needs to be answered at this point:  What is the analogical and thus authorial intent of the Bible’s marital images?  In other words, what is the illocutionary force—the communicative effect—they are to have on readers?  The focus of the bridegroom/bride and the husband/wife analogies in their contexts is clear, with interpretive boundaries that show emphases other than romantic ones.

The Bridegroom/Bride

The central focus of the bridegroom/bride imagery is anticipation, expectation, and preparation.  In the Old Testament, the preparation for the future and thus joyful anticipation is seen, but this figure is not used for God and His people directly.  For example, in Isaiah 61:10, Zion[22] rejoices in God’s provision of salvation and righteousness, because He joyfully adorns them as both, a bridegroom with a turban and a bride with jewels, in preparation for the presentation of the couple to each other at the wedding ceremony.[23] Then they will be ready for marriage (cf. 62:5).  In several other instances, however, the impurity of the nation of Israel causes the LORD to remove all joy that the bridegroom and bride naturally experience in anticipation of their wedding and replace it with judgment and desolation (Jer. 7:34; 16:9; 25:10; 33:11; Joel 1:8; 2:16; cf. Rev. 18:23).

The New Testament more explicitly relates the bridegroom to Christ.  John the Baptist refers to Jesus as the bridegroom and to himself as the best man or friend of the bridegroom.  John’s anticipation and preparation is rewarded and he is full of joy as he finally hears the bridegroom’s voice (John 3:29).  When asked why John’s disciples and the Pharisees fasted and Jesus’ disciples did not, He identifies Himself as the bridegroom.  His presence in Israel should be celebrated like a wedding feast, and not with ceremonial fasting.  Being a disciple of Jesus should be like attending a wedding feast.[24] Nevertheless, Jesus would not always be with them.  Later, the bridegroom imagery changes to anticipation and preparation of His arrival after His absence.  The Parable of the Ten Virgins is the only other reference to the bridegroom concept in Jesus’ teachings.  He compares the delaying of the coming of the Son of Man with that of a bridegroom’s delay (Matt. 25:1-13).  Five awaiting virgins were foolishly unprepared and five were prudently prepared (25:2-9).  The unprepared did not have a close relationship with the bridegroom, since He did not know them when they wanted to be let in late to the wedding feast (25:10-12).  Jesus concludes the story with the succinct warning, “Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour” of His/the Bridegroom’s return (25:13).[25]

This same preparatory focus is developed in the John’s description in the book of Revelation of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb and the descent of the New Jerusalem.  The focal point of the celebration of the Marriage Supper is that “His bride has made herself ready” and the clothing given to her will be “fine linen, bright and clean” symbolizing “the righteous acts of the saints” (Rev. 19:7-8).  The New Jerusalem, specifically ascribed as a “holy city,” is itself “made ready as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev. 21:2).  After the wedding, John is shown “the bride, the wife of the Lamb … the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” (Rev. 21:9-10).  It is not surprising, then, that the final reference of this image underscores the preparation/anticipation emphasis.  “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come’” (Rev. 22:17a).

The Husband/Wife

The husband/wife imagery has two central aspects.  One is from the marital relationship itself and the other from the roles within that relationship.  The marital image itself stresses love and faithfulness, whereas the husband role initiates love and sacrifice for the wife and the wife role is responsive to the husband in trust, respect and submission.  At the same time, these two aspects overlap to emphasize the unique union of marriage itself.

The image of marriage for God and His people in the Old Testament is used strongly in prophetic literature, and its central focus is faithfulness.  Even though the LORD Himself describes His relationship to Israel as a marriage, He only does so to communicate that the people have been unfaithful to Him by committing spiritual adultery through idolatry.  God promises Israel that in His faithfulness He would cause them to forget the shame that they would suffer in exile because, “your husband is your Maker, whose name is the LORD of hosts” (Isa. 54:5).  He would call them from exile “like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, even like a wife of one’s youth when she is rejected” (Isa. 54:6).  This rejection was symbolized by Him, divorcing them.  In Jeremiah 3:8, He gave the northern kingdom a certificate of divorce (tWtyriK]).  Later He left Judah (Isa. 54:6-7).  This divorce appears to be warranted by Israel’s breaking of her relationship with Him.  After the exile they do reunite, so it may be that this divorce imagery actually represented a period of separation (Isa. 54:7-8).

Nevertheless, this unfaithfulness of God’s wife is graphically depicted not only as adultery, but harlotry or prostitution.  There are demonstrations of the “whoredom”[26] or unfaithfulness of God’s people to their marital bond with their God who is prompted to jealousy throughout the Pentateuch[27] and historical books[28] as well as the prophets[29] and even the New Testament.[30]

Roles of the Husband and Wife

In Ephesians 5:22-33, the husband and wife imagery used by Paul is essential to certain truths about the nature of Christ’s relationship with the church. Christ is the head of the church and she is to submit to Him. Analogously, the wife is to be submissive to her husband. Christ is not only as head of the church, but her Savior (5:22-24).  He, in a sense, earned this special role in the relationship by giving Himself up for her (5:25).  While there is obvious love and amazing depth to this analogy, there does not seem to be any emotionally romantic element to the submissive role the church is to assume.  On the contrary, the “ranking oneself under another” concept behind “submit” (upotavssw) in this context merely calls the wife and the believer to yield their own rights in the relationship, in loving trust and respect.

As Christ sacrificially loved the church, husbands by analogy are to consistently love their wives (5:25-29).  This love, while intimate, is self-sacrificing.  It is a love that recognizes the imperfections in another, but helps the other achieve personal purity before God (5:26-27).  To gloss over this love with Western, emotionally centered romanticism is unwarranted and adds something foreign to the text’s concept of love.[31]

What do these biblical insights mean for the premise of this article?  This summary of scriptural context, and thus the intent of the Bible’s marital imagery, is meant to provide the framework from which to understand the limits of its application.  The bridegroom/bride image is used to communicate the need for God’s people to prepare themselves in expectation for His impending judgment, upon Christ’s imminent return.  It has an element of joy for the pure, but it is mostly a portrayal of serious repentant preparation.  The husband/wife imagery has two aspects where the marital image emphasizes love and faithfulness. The husband initiates love and sacrifice, and the wife responds to the husband in trust, respect and submission.  At the same time, these two aspects overlap to reveal the unique union of marriage itself.  There is no hint of what Western romance often stresses with respect to love.


At the outset, it should be recognized that author Viola, and the many other Christians who espouse his ideas, have a sincere desire to draw close to God in Christ. They have grasped that God clearly invites His people to an intimate relationship with Him.  They seem to be fully aware that biblical imagery of marriage appears to communicate intimacy with God.  Yet they have perhaps unknowingly not only struggled with the truthfulness or accuracy of interpreting this imagery, but with applying it to the believer’s relationship with God.  This study argues that these metaphors are to be interpreted literally, or in keeping with the authorial intent, rather than allegorically. Since God is not a literal husband or bridegroom to a literal wife or bride, with all the human aspects, the marital images that describe His relationship with His people provide a powerful analogy that describes this unique relationship and union anthropomorphically.

Therefore, several problems with approaches like Viola’s have been noted.  A Christocentric interpretation of these images reduces to allegorizing or spiritualizing.  Again, true allegories do not hide their nature as such. Many of the passages used to support these romantic concepts have no such identifiable elements or hints at another level of meaning.  To assume a supposed “spiritual” or “Christological” meaning merely causes an overshadowing and even eradication of the biblical author’s intended meaning.

Some may ask what harm there is in inserting or overlaying a certain biblical concept into or onto other texts where it is not warranted.  Should it really matter as long as it is already taught in the Bible?  First, it is not only a serious hermeneutical error to not allow God’s words to be accepted and heeded in their own context, but it brings dishonor to the interpreter and thus to God’s people.  Teachers of God’s Word are to be zealous to demonstrate that they are proclaiming an interpretation He would approve of, and would not cause Him to disapprove of them and cause shame (2 Tim. 2:15).

Second, what is used to overshadow the intended meaning of these marital images is a concept that is mostly foreign to the Bible itself.  From the numerous illustrations in Viola’s book, love is equivalent in large part to romance, passion or emotion.  This is mixing metaphors.  Laying cultural images over biblical ones shrouds believers’ ability to appropriately conceive of God’s love for them and therefore their love for God.  It veils the truth of the nature of the relationship itself, which is crucial to any intimate relationship.

Third, and related, this mixing of metaphors is an illegitimate contextualization[32] of the Scripture’s teachings.  Rather than translating the biblical truth of the intimate love between God and man in appropriate and corresponding concepts, Viola and others transform this idea into a love foreign to the biblical worldview.  Granted, while this culturally captive love may resemble certain aspects of the Bible’s marital imagery (devotion, passion, etc.), those who adopt it as a direct correspondence, do so uncritically.[33] To equate love with romance is indeed one of contemporary culture’s many reductionisms.[34]

More serious theological reflection is needed with respect to the biblical concepts of love and intimacy with God, to ground them sufficiently in truth, in order for them to be articulated for believers and pursued with legitimate means.[35] It is clear that many like Viola are affected by present cultural and past and current theological conceptions of love.  Could it be that they are a part of the ebb and flow of post-Enlightenment debates on the impassibility of God?  Are they reacting to the same static impassible God that the process theologians abhor?  At the same time, do they allow the pendulum to swing so far that God’s love is merely His “passion”? Author D.A. Carson observes,

So now God comes to us and says, “I love you.” What does he mean? Does he mean something like this?  “You mean everything to me.  I can’t live without you.  Your personality, your witty conversation, your beauty, your smile—everything about you transfixes me.  Heaven would be boring without you.  I love you!”  That, after all, is pretty close to what some therapeutic approaches to the love of God spell out.  We must be pretty wonderful because God loves us.  And dear old God is pretty vulnerable, finding himself in a dreadful state unless we say yes.  Suddenly serious Christians unite and rightly cry, “Bring back impassibility!”[36]

These cultural pendulum swings concerning the love of God can only be brought back more to the center through accurate theological reflection on the Scriptures as the “norming norm.”

A final caution needs to be given concerning intimacy with God.  While the concepts used by Viola and others for the love inherent in the Bible’s marital images do engender a certain kind of intimacy with God, the popular understanding of love and intimacy is often based on passion or emotion and coupled with romance.  In other words, romance is often associated with the experiences and emotions of being in love, as well as falling out of love.  Thomas Bergler shows psychological research demonstrates that “especially for younger adolescents, romantic relationships are primarily about the individual’s status, emotional needs, and identity search.  The ability to develop genuinely mutual romantic relationships with staying power develops later.  For some people, this ability is only just developing during young adulthood.  Some never get there.”[37] A significant danger of a romantic approach is that love for God can be reduced to emotional infatuation.[38]

The church must help its members develop intimacy with God that goes beyond cultural definitions of love, to instead pursue and experience the staying power of a maturity based in accurate interpretation of Scripture.  We must, as described in the language of Bergler’s research, “get there.”

[1]Thomas Bergler, “A Pastoral Process for Leading Churches toward Spiritual Maturity,” Unpublished manuscript, 2009, 14-15.

[2]Frank Viola. From Eternity to Here: Rediscovering the Ageless Purpose of God, (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook), 2009.

[3]Viola. From Eternity to Here, 26.

[4]Ibid., 91, 93-94.

[5]Ibid., 41.

[6]Ibid., 61, 282.

[7]Ibid., 74.  In referring typologically to the Samaritan woman, Viola exhorts believers that “you are part of that matchless woman with whom Christ has fallen hopelessly in love.  Yes, Jesus Christ, the king of the universe, has fallen irreversibly in love with you.” Ibid., 128.

[8]Ibid., 55.

[9]Ibid., 59.

[10]Ibid., 113.

[11]Ibid., 115.

[12]Ibid., 115, italics his.

[13]Ibid., 74.

[14]Ibid., 16.  Esp. Brevard Childs, and the narrative theology approach of Hans Frei.  Frank Viola, “Beyond Bible Study:  Finding Christ in Scripture,”  2007. Date Accessed: November 6, 2009.

[15]Viola, “Beyond Bible Study:  Finding Christ in Scripture.”

[16]Viola, “Beyond Bible Study”.  See a nearly identical definition by the Catholic scholar Raymond E. Brown in his The ‘Sensus Plenior’ of Sacred Scripture (Baltimore: St. Mary’s University, 1955), 92, for which Viola does not credit.

[17]Tremper Longman III, “Song of Solomon,” Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible, gen. ed. Kevin Vanhoozer, (Grand Rapids:  Baker, 2005), 759.

[18]Years ago, Bernard Ramm rightly claimed that it is the “profound similarity of the two Testaments which makes predictive prophecy and typology a possibility.” Protestant Biblical Interpretation, Third Revised Edition, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1970), 228.

[19]Douglas Moo, “The Problem of Sensus Plenior,” Hermeneutics, Authority, and Canon, edited by D. A. Carson and John D. Woodbridge, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986), 202.  The more extreme continuity (versus discontinuity) approaches are known for their attempts to justify extended typology.  This is not only seen in Seventh Day Adventism, but other continuity positions on a variety of issues from Christological interpretive methods.  See Hans K. LaRondelle, The Israel of God in Prophecy:  Principles of Prophetic Interpretation, (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 1983), especially chapters 1-5.

[20]To many church fathers who were captive to a neo-Platonic view of sex and thus the Song of Solomon.  many of their allegories did not even approach attempting to see any sexual union in Song of Solomon.  See for some examples, J. Robert Wright, ed. Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Old Testament, Vol. IX, general editor, Thomas C. Oden (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2005), 337-39, 341-2, 359-64.

[21]It is quite surprising to find D. A. Carson, on the one hand, rightly argue against seeing sex as “an intrinsically soiled or at best morally inferior” activity, and then go on to typologically overextend the Bible’s marital imagery.   He argues the final consummation of the marriage “can be thought of as the marriage supper of the Lamb.”  His next line of reasoning is oddly stated.  “It is as if the only pleasure and intimacy in this life that comes close to anticipating the pleasure and intimacy of the church and her Lord being perfectly united on the last day is the sexual union of a good marriage.”  He offers no real support for this other than how Hosea is a typology of Yahweh and Israel.  He then argues in the reverse.  “And, conversely, that invests each marriage with a kind of typological value that should make thoughtful Christians all the more eager for the Lord’s return, for the coming of the Bridegroom, for the consummation.  Hence the spectacular intertwining of the pairs husband/wife and Christ/church in Ephesians 5:25-33.”  Is the sexual union of marriage really the only good explanation of what it will be like when believers experience their union with Christ at His return?  Does the image of the marriage supper imply the pleasure of sexual intercourse?  Is that what John was describing in Rev 19?  Isn’t the imagery only focusing on the celebration of the wedding and the joyous though ceremonial joining of the couple?  D. A. Carson, Love in Hard Places (Wheaton:  Crossway, 2002), 191.

[22]It is interesting to note how classic continuity scholars like Edward J. Young assume that the speaker here is “the Church of God, the elect, the true Israel.” The Book of Isaiah, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), 3:465.

[23]Young assumes that this is “how God envelops the Church in salvation.” Young, The Book of Isaiah, 3:466.

[24]This is a significant emphasis with this imagery since all of the synoptic Gospels include this discussion (Matt 9:14-15; Mark 2:18-20; Luke 5:33-35).

[25]For Jesus’ expectation of the appropriate response to God’s invitation to be a part of His kingdom, see, see His parable of the son of the king’s wedding feast in Matt 22:1-14.

[26]From hn;z; or moicavw, moiceuvw.

[27]E.g., Ex 34:11-16; Lev 17:7; 20:4-6; Num 15:38-40; Deut 31:16.

[28]E.g., Judg 2:16-17; 8:27, 33.

[29]E.g., Isa 1:21-23; 57:3; Jer 2:20, 23-25; 3:1-6; 13:20-27; Ezek 16:15-43a; 23:1-49; Hos 1-3; Mic 1:7.

[30]E.g., Matt 12:38-39; 16:1-2, 4; 1 Cor 6:15-17; 2 Cor 11:1-3; Jas 4:4; Rev 2:14, 20-23.  Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr. has captured the breadth of this truth in his work, Whoredom: God’s Unfaithful Wife in Biblical Theology in New Studies in Biblical Theology, D. A. Carson, Series Editor (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996).

[31]Even though Abbott went to the extreme when he said that “there is no emotion in self-love,” he does aptly describe it at least in part as leading the husband to “regard her welfare as his own, and to feel all that concerns her as if it concerned himself.”  This conjugal love may be based in affections, but is “reinforced by reflection, and made firm by the sense of duty” T. K. Abbott, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians, The International Critical Commentary, (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, n.d.), 171.

[32]Lints defines contextualization as “the manner in which the expression of a biblical passage is shaped in and by the native conceptuality of a given culture.”  Richard Lints, The Fabric of Theology: A Prolegomenon to Evangelical Theology (Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, 1993), 101.  This helps to clarify the shaping process that is taking place here.

[33]Carson, Love in Hard Places, 11.

[34]E.g., truth is equal to public scientific facts vs. private/personal values; morality is culturally relative, etc.

[35]Part of this discussion could be around the issue of whether God’s love is one of His attributes to be categorized and described or how He relates.  See Kevin J. Vanhoozer, First Theology: God, Scripture & Hermeneutics (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2002), 80.

[36]D. A. Carson, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God (Wheaton: Crossway, 2000), 62-63.

[37]Thomas Bergler, “A Pastoral Process for Leading Churches toward Spiritual Maturity,” Unpublished manuscript, 2009, 14.

[38]Jesus is being reduced to the boyfriend, fiancé or husband of Christian women.  See Angieszka Tennant, “Dating Jesus:  When ‘lover of my soul’ language goes to far,” Christianity Today (Dec. 2006), 56.

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